Guinea 6-1 BotswanaIn the first match of the day we saw the two sides in the tournament with the best kits go head-to-head – Botswana and Guinea, there is no doubt about that. Botswana’s is a light blue of serenity, a type of kit where you can imagine their whole squad going for a swim in the ocean and your eyes not being able to differentiate between them and the humble waves of the sea. Guinea’s kit can be described as colourful, representative of Africa as a whole in its colour; ever-blushing and randomly complemented with bright yellow shorts. It’s easy to like a team because of their kit and I like Guinea. The west Africans made light work of the southern Africans, smashing them 6-1.
The Zebra approachThe Zebras were frustratingly difficult to beat during qualification because of their compactness as a defensive unit – only losing 1 game in 8, a 1-0 away defeat to Togo, and by then they had sealed qualification to the AFCON. Tactically, the majority of the players were behind the ball and the only outlet a lot of the time was commentators’ – and bloggers’ – nightmare Jerome Ramatlhakwane who caught opponents off-guard on the break. This was evident in their opening game against Ghana as the Black Stars found it difficult to break them down, Ramatlhakwane racing away forcing John Mensah to commit as the last man and earn a red card. Ghana's solitary goal coming from a set-piece and it could be argued that Botswana deserved more from the game.
The Bots malfunctionAgainst Guinea, the Zebras attempted to play a more expansive game, presumably because they knew a win was vital here because Guinea, out of the other sides in the group, are probably the weakest side defensively. They were punished severely for their approach as Guinea cut them open at will and - had their finishing been better - we could have been looking at a scoreline in double figures. Still, Guinea became only the third team to score 6 goals at the Cup of Nations (the others were Egypt 6-3 Nigeria in 1963 and Ivory Coast 6-1 Ethiopia in 1970). It’s worth noting that the sending off before half-time probably made things worse for Botswana, although even with 11 team on the pitch there were several holes and lapses in defence. They were lucky not to have conceded more.
The evening game saw the battle of two heavy-weights – Ghana and Mali; the all whites and the all yellows. It was all-white on the night as Ghana won for the first time by two clear goals since the 3rd/4th play-off final at the 2008 Cup of Nations, when they beat Ivory Coast 4-2 on home soil.
A tense first half in this game, was entertaining enough. Ghana started more brightly, but Mali grew into the game, however there wasn’t much goal mouth action to be had. Diabate came closest for either side after his sweetly struck free kick came off both posts before coming away from goal.
In the second half the Black Stars took control. Two of their biggest stars were on point to take home 3 points for Ghana. Baby Jet showed he still has what it takes, when he unleashed a masterful strike from the free kick, which flew over the wall and into the top corner. Ghana’s second half dominance being rewarded. Then came the turn of young Ayew, who had been the liveliest player on the pitch, twisted one way and then the other in the Mali box, before slotting home at the near post.
While the result was efficient and proved further that Ghana will be hard to beat, there are still unsolved problems. For much of the game Mali winger Modibo Maiga had the beating of left-back Masahadu Alhassan. The left-back remains a problem and Alhassan, who plays for Genoa reserves, doesn’t seem the solution to the problem, rather someone who exacerbates it. The distribution of goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey also invited pressure, with various easy balls given to Mali as well as inexperience shown in dealing with some situations. Lack of genune creativity still seems an issue, with two of the three goals Ghana have scored from the tournament coming from set-pieces.
The result means that mathematically, all teams in group D are still in with a shout on final day.